It’s common knowledge by now that winter throws your skin off-balance. But your hair, too? As it turns out, dry, chilly winter air has just as much of an effect, and it goes way beyond hat hair.
Every aspect of freezing temps — from putting on your coat to coming in from the cold — can affect your hair. Here are the scenarios you should watch out for this season and how to do damage control.
1 The Situation: You tucked your hair into your coat collar and then piled on a scarf — and now it’s a knotted mess.
* The reality: Friction between the two materials (presumably your coat and whatever you’re wearing) creates tangles, but try to brush them out and you’ll end up with a halo of static. “Instead, spray a detangling spray through the lengths of your hair,” says Anabel Kingsley, trichologist at Philip Kingsley (she recommends Philip Kingsley Daily Damage Defense Conditioning Spray, $38). “Then, using a wide-tooth comb, comb hair starting at your ends and work your way up.“ Going from top to bottom can actually worsen tangles and even break hair. Watch out, too, if you dye your hair. “Friction from scarves or collars roughs up hair and opens its cuticle layer, which makes it easier for the color to escape,” says hair colorist Nate Rosenkranz, Creative Team Stylist at Alterna Haircare.
2 The Situation: You left the house with wet hair and now you’re decked out in icicles.
* The reality: In chilly weather, it’s not your hair that freezes — it’s the water sitting on top of it. Luckily, says Kingsley, it doesn’t cause structural damage so much as give you a bad case of brain freeze. In the future, swap your usual terrycloth for a microfiber towel, which better absorbs water, and give your hair a quick blow-dry before braving the cold. Or better yet: shampoo at night.
3 The Situation: You walked into work on a cold, sunny day and suddenly, somehow, your hair is frizzy.
* The reality:A quick chemistry lesson: Hydrogen bonds, which separate in the presence of moisture and then re-form, determine whether your hair is smooth, curly, or somewhere in between. Likewise, “when you step from the warm indoors to the cold outside, the atmospheric moisture content changes, re-forming hydrogen bonds and causing the hair to change shape and get frizzy,” says Kingsley. To keep moisture in the air from penetrating the cuticle, spritz a lightweight hairspray like Sexy Hair Big Sexy Hair Weather Proof Humidity Resistant Spray ($19) all over hair before you head out.
4 The Situation: It’s been two weeks and your highlights are fading faster than the afternoon light.
* The reality: It’s not your imagination. Your color really is fading faster than usual. “Dry winter air saps moisture from your hair, and hair color needs moisture to survive,” says Rosenkranz. (To be clear, this is totally different than the frizz-causing moisture in the air — in the same way that humid days don’t boost hair hydration.) To keep hair nourished and color vibrant, he suggests simply swapping your normal conditioner for a leave-in version like Alterna Caviar Replenishing Moisture Milk ($30).
5 The Situation: Out of nowhere you have white chunky flakes all over your black sweater—what gives?
* The reality: Dandruff (not to be confused with dry scalp, which appears in the form of tiny white flakes) tends to be more common in the colder months. No one’s exactly sure why it’s more common in the winter. “It could be due to higher stress levels,” —s ince they can impair your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to overgrowth of the fungus behind dandruff — “and not shampooing as often,” says Kingsley. The easiest fix? Incorporating an antimicrobial shampoo like Clear Hair & Scalp Therapy Anti-Dandruff Shampoo ($8) into your routine. While that works its magic, fix flakes on the spot with an exfoliating scalp mask like Kiehl’s Deep Micro-Exfoliating Scalp Treatment ($20), which will chemically dissolves them.
6 The Situation: You decided to thaw with a hot, steamy shower.
* The reality: Warm showers may be your guilty winter pleasure, but they won’t do your dyed hair any favors. “Hot water opens the cuticle layer of the hair, causing color loss,” explains Rosenkranz. The obvious solution is a cool shower, which may work in the summer, but not so much when there’s frost on the ground. Instead, Rosenkranz suggests using an intensely hydrating shampoo and conditioner designed to protect colored hair. Try grapeseed oil-laced Fekkai Technician Color Care Shampoo and Conditioner ($20 each), which packs a ton of moisture.
7 The Situation: You made the mistake of wearing socks on carpets, and now the static in your hair is out of control.
* The reality: While static isn’t the cutest look, it doesn’t do any long-term damage to your hair. More than anything, it’s a sign of dryness (and, of course, opposing charges in the air). To calm it, just smooth a dab of smoothing cream or serum over strands, suggests Kingsley. In a pinch, you could even use oil intended for allover use, like argan.